nVidia Shield TV – Is It As Good As It Sounds?

Traditionally I’ve been an Apple fan, initially having an iPhone, a MacBook Pro, an Apple TV and an iMac to serve as an iTunes server to run the Apple TV.

I’ve since switched to Android for my phone, Chromecast for my TV Streaming and lately the nVidia Shield Android TV system for more versatile TV than the Chromecast supports. I do still have my MacBook Pro, although I have a PC as well for other things (such as gaming).

nVidia Shield TV versus the Apple TV

It’s fair to say that I haven’t looked at the latest Apple TV, so my experiences are based on the Apple TV 3 rather than the Apple TV 4, which I understand does a bit more. However, I’d already switched to the Android ecosystem by the time the Apple TV 4 came out.

The nVidia Shield TV supports the Google Play Store (much like the AppleTV supports the Apple App Store) which means that you can install all manner of software to extend the functionality of the Shield TV. Bear in mind though, that the Shield TV is a proper, genuine version of Android TV and this is slightly different to the standard Android that you find on your phone. Applications have to be specifically built for Android TV for the best experience. It is possible to ‘sideload’ normal Android Apps but I’ve found the user experience with this isn’t the best. This is often due to the fact that the standard Android applications are expecting a touch screen, which you probably don’t have on your 42″ television.

Most apps that are relevant to TV though have been built and customised for the Android TV.

The biggest difference with the nVidia Shield TV versus the Apple TV is that the Shield is manufactured by nVidia who are the leading graphics card manufacturer for the PC. The PC is well known to be a much better gaming system than any of the Apple offerings (with the possible exception of the Mac Pro) and in this same vein, the nVidia Shield is an excellent gaming console and indeed comes with a gaming controller in the normal PS3/XBox style.

I never got into playing games on the Apple TV and the lack of controller was probably one of the main reasons.

Games on the nVidia are smooth, quick and look great. I play a fair bit of Minecraft and playing on the nVidia TV is easily as much fun (if not more so) than playing on a Windows machine. The controller is a wireless controller and provides hours of gaming on one charge.

But, probably the biggest difference I found between the nVidia Shield TV versus the Apple TV was storage. The Apple TV relied on a Mac or PC running iTunes to host any content such as Movies or TV Shows – unless you were prepared to pay the exorbitant fees Apple charge to ‘rent’ these. The Shield comes with internal storage of 16gigabytes or 500gigabytes and includes the Plex Home Theater system, enabling you to store all your movies and TV Shows on the device itself.

This of course means you don’t need to have a PC or Mac sitting in the house somewhere consuming electricity just so you can watch your TV Shows when you want. Through the addition of an external USB dongle you can even watch live TV on the nVidia shield – though I’ve not tested this. Other devices can be plugged into the Shield through one of the 2 USB 3.0 interfaces provided – something the Apple TV didn’t provide at all.

Gaming on the nVidia Shield TV

I touched upon this above, but to re-iterate, the Shield TV is an excellent gaming platform and there are a huge amount of titles available to play, including Minecraft (although you do have to fiddle with sideloading to get Minecraft to work) which works well with the included controller.

I’ve also played some excellent racing games on the Shield, although most of these are quite large applications due to the graphics they include. You may need to look at external storage if you want to play many games on the Shield – or go for the 500Gigabyte option. I went for the external storage option using a USB 3.0 hard drive. I’ll go into this later.

nVidia also provide the option, exclusively to the nVidia Shield Android TV – which enables some games to be streamed directly from more powerful computers either on your home network or the nVidia cloud. This means that the hard work of creating the 3D scenes needed by most modern games is done on a real workhorse machine with fabulous specs (although the Shield TV is second to none when it comes to portable low power devices).

This game streaming capability, called GeForce Now, enables you to play outstanding games on your TV in the same way as you would on a PlayStation 3 or XBox One – all using the same hardware that you can use to watch YouTube or Netflix, or listen to the radio using something like TuneIn.

What About Movies / TV Shows?

The nVidia Shield TV comes with a Plex Media Server built in, as well as the Plex Player application. These are built specifically for the Shield TV and are optimised for this. I’m not going to go into great detail about Plex Media Server as this is a topic for another post, but I use it regularly to watch my movies and TV Shows. The great thing about Plex on the Shield TV is that you can store all your movies and shows either on the Shield itself or you can mount an external network drive ( for example from a NAS, or a USB drive plugged in to your router ( though you would be better off putting the USB drive into the Shield itself ) or you can have your movies and tv shows hosted on a Plex server on a desktop computer ).

If you use Plex Media Server you can download the Plex application for your mobile phone or tablet and if your broadband upload speed is fast enough ( most UK and probably US fibre broadband plans will be ) you can even use the Shield to serve your content to you while you’re on the move. Be aware this would of course use up your 4G data allowance fairly quickly.

The Shield TV’s hardware is quick enough that if you should want to use your mobile device to watch TV whilst you’re not at home, then it can transcode the video file into a format that uses less bandwidth on the fly. Most of the other Android TV devices I’ve tried simply don’t have enough graphics horsepower to do this effectively, meaning that you’re stuck with using a higher powered PC or Mac to do this for you. The Shield however is a low powered device that you probably won’t mind leaving running all the time, but provides enough punch to transcode effectively.

If you don’t have your own collection of Movies or TV Shows you can use the Google Play store to rent them just as you could with the Apple infrastructure.

If you do have your own collection of DVDs that you’d like to put into your Shield / Plex collection for watching anywhere, I highly recommend having a look at the article on our sister site at https://reviewmacsoftware.com for some easy and affordable ways to do this.

And Music?

There’s various ways you can use your Shield device to play music around the house. The Shield TV itself supports BlueTooth so you can connect up a BlueTooth speaker to it if you prefer – the Logitech Z537 is a stunning 2.1 system with Bluetooth if you’re looking for a reasonably priced speaker system. I personally use the Logitech Z533 system with RCA inputs on my system as I’m not too fussed about the Bluetooth aspect.

If you don’t need big punchy sound but instead want decent sound with portability, the COWIN MD-6110 portable bluetooth speaker is a great option – though nowhere near as punchy as the 2.1 systems above, it is extremely portable and allows you to pair the nVidia Shield TV via Bluetooth and then move around the house.

The Bluetooth sender in the Shield is quite powerful and I don’t have any trouble with moving the speaker around the house and still playing music.

There are various ways to get music playing on the Shield. You can of course simply stream a YouTube playlist – which would give you video and audio – and I do this myself sometimes. It’s a great idea if you’re holding a party because it gives you the best of both worlds and provides some great entertainment. There’s also of course Google Music which you can subscribe to.

I personally use Deezer for my music provider as the library is huge and I use the family subscription to enable the other members of the family to have their own favourites and playlists. Deezer have recently updated the application for Android TV ( earlier versions were utterly horrible ) and it now works pretty well. There’s still a little way to go before the TV app compares 100% with the mobile app, but it’s almost there.

Then of course, there’s Plex again – which if you have your music collection as a library of MP3’s you can store on the storage of your Shield and can send them out anywhere to any device that you have the Plex application. Be aware though that of course, streaming outside of the home will use your mobile data (whereas services like Deezer and Google Music will allow you to download the music to your device so it’s not using your 4G data allowance when out on the road).

Is There Enough Storage Space For All This?

The short answer, for the 16Gigabyte version of the Shield is no. There’s probably not enough space for all this, particularly if you’re into games on the TV too – as mentioned above a lot of the games will download large amounts of graphics content to improve the experience, but this takes up space. The 500GB version of the Shield is notoriously hard to get hold of in the UK and Australia – although appears quite common in the US. With places like Amazon selling the Shield in the US you may be able to get hold of the 500GB version but it’ll come with a US plug ( so you can simply buy a travel adaptor and overcome that problem if you’re not in the US ).

But I bought a 1 Terrabyte USB3.0 external hard drive which works a treat. If you buy the 2.5″ version of the disk rather than the larger 3.5″ desktop version, you won’t need to use any additional power sockets as the Shield’s USB port will provide enough power for this.

You can adopt the USB drive as internal storage with the latest Shield firmware, meaning that all the storage appears to the Shield to be internal storage. This is quite significant because Apps and App data can only be stored on internal storage, so those big games will be stored on the USB drive instead. The only downside is that the external drive is not as fast as the internal storage ( since the internal storage is essentially an SSD drive whereas the external drive is likely to be a rotating HDD ) meaning that some apps – particularly those big ones – won’t load up as quickly as they would if you were using pure internal storage.

I’ve not really noticed this however – being USB3 ( provided you buy a USB 3 hard drive ) the speed is still pretty good. The benefit of having all that extra space outweighs the performance hit for my usage.

If you do adopt an external drive for Shield storage you cannot use that drive in any other device – including any other Shield TV. This is because it’s a proprietary format and nVidia also cite security reasons for doing this. It’s not an issue unless you want to be able to load your movies and shows onto the device directly.

Fortunately, you can tell the Shield to share it’s storage over the network using a Windows share ( which is also visible from Mac, so long as you’re using a relatively new version of MacOS ). Your best bet if you’re going to go this route is to ensure that your nVidia Shield is connected to a fast WiFi or cabled connection. The Shield has an ethernet port on the rear and will run GigaBit ethernet if your router / switch supports it. The WiFi connection is 5Ghz ( or 2.4Ghz if you prefer ) capable and does run extremely quickly so long as the signal strength is good. Transferring across the network is slower than directly writing to the USB drive from a desktop PC, but in most cases you’re only going to be transferring the movie once so it works well. Setting this up is relatively simple, but you can only choose the username the share will be provided with, the password is automatically generated by the Shield and whilst it can be changed, it can only be changed to something the Shield itself generates – so you can’t choose your own password. nVidia appear to have chosen this to increase the security of the password. Given that you have access to sensitive data that the device relies upon, this seems wise.

Conclusion

The nVidia Shield TV is an excellent device and is the central hub of all my home media. Using Plex I can stream all my movies and shows to any other Chromecast connected device in the house such as the TV in my bedroom, or Bluetooth connected speakers. The Shield has built in Chromecast so you can stream the contents of your web pages from a laptop running Google Chrome straight to the large screen TV.

Gaming is fabulous, streaming is excellent – the picture quality of the 4K streaming on YouTube or Netflix is just outstanding and the device looks great sitting next to the TV. I find it much better to buy a cheaper TV without ‘SmartTV’ features and just hook up the Shield via an HDMI cable. The Shield can power the TV on and off if you have a CEC compliant TV.

The interface is quick and easy to use, with no stuttering or lagging and the latest firmware even allows you to use your voice (via the gaming controller) to say ‘OK, Google’ and search for media on the device, watch the latest movie or search the web. I’ve heard rumours that with a dongle attached you can also use the Google Assistant to control aspects of your Google Home infrastructure but I haven’t tried this yet.

Of all my home theater setups I’ve had throughout the time I’ve been playing with them, the nVidia Shield TV is by far the best, most versatile and still the best value for money yet.

 

 

 

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